1B | INTO THE HUMAN SYSTEM | PRIMARY RESEARCH

At For Selfish Eggs, we speculate about future technologies that extend human capabilities, improving our standard of living. I talked to Raymond Hayler, a final year medical science student at UNSW majoring in physiology, about where he sees technology moving in the future and whether artificially generating bodily systems will be possible.

In your field of study, what role does technology currently play?

Essentially everything we learn is proven through experiments facilitated by differing technologies. It wouldn’t be possible to look into physiology without instruments.

Do you think technology in relation to the human body will morph?

Gene therapy is going to be a massive field, rivalling the biotech start-ups of the 70s with insulin synthesis. It involves tailoring individual treatments to people’s individual genes – sequencing their DNA to isolate errors such as those found in cancer, and applying a treatment specific to them.

Do you see this happening by 2050?

Almost certainly.

If gene therapy is successfully implemented, could it be abused? Or even used as a way to extend human capability?

So instead of let’s fix the human, let’s enhance the human? Maybe. It’s possible you could start borrowing DNA sequences from others. A market for ‘designer genes’ might pop up and people could sell that.

Back to 2050, how do you envision it?

2050 will have the death of all pseudo-sciences hopefully. Urban wise, I feel changes in the CBD will become more ubiquitous and city living will be more passenger-friendly. Medicine is always improving with tailored therapies and drug design improving. With computer power being assigned to designs, some of us will be living longer than ever. However, I am concerned about movements in the West regarding complacency to health. I fully believe the current trend of life expectancy shortening for the first time in human history will continue for majority of the population.

I personally believe that complacency to health is also somewhat dictated by our relationship to technology. Ironically, could technology lengthen our life span despite our declining health?

I believe our complacency stems from a lack of food education and disregarding of obesity as a minor vice. But, yes, of course. That’s most certainly going to happen – but a zeitgeist shift to a healthy lifestyle would take a massive burden off the system which will be trying to keep all these people alive.

Do you think a technologically engineered system could be integrated into our bodies?

Technologically engineered, no, but definitely technologically improved. Artificial pancreatic islets are a field of research in diabetics. Pancreatic islets are areas in your pancreas that produce insulin. In diabetics, people either have too little insulin (type 1) or they’re insulin resistant (type 2). Requiring even more insulin, the islet cells become tired and die so exogenous insulin injections are needed. But if we can synthesise cells that produce insulin and plug them in, there will be no need for injections.

In your opinion, are interdisciplinary cross overs between scientists and designers important?

I feel like more cross over will be needed. USyd is moving to 4 year degrees, with all science degrees requiring arts and general education now. It is designed to make sure you’re learning about things outside of your field. Students need that extra year of other education to promote links to other fields and to expand creativity. If I could change my course, I’d put more emphasis on learning about societal impacts. I think it’s important to learn about how our lives are affected by what we do.

I was interested in the perspective of someone removed from design. Hayler is a linear and realistic thinker, and in interviewing him, we did argue – highlighting the varying opinions surrounding future technologies. In relation to our scenario, I found his knowledge valuable as he introduced me to gene therapy, an experimental medical treatment I was not familiar with. The concept of altering our bodies at a molecular level is thought-provoking as it could possibly go beyond fixing humans, resulting in bodies enhanced to their fullest capability. He did agree that interdisciplinary crossover was important, criticising how the medical science curriculum at his university did not adequately cover societal impacts of research developed.

Gene editing, gene therapy and the eye as a gateway (2015) at the World Medical Innovation Forum

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